Taoiseach Micheal Martin has said he is “concerned” about the rapid spread of the Omicron Covid variant after Christmas as evidence shows it is “more infectious.”
Mr Martin said he was “hopeful” about 2022 but said the “honest answer” is that the Government can’t rule out more restrictions.
Speaking to reporters in Cork on Friday after he received his booster vaccine, Mr Martin said: “I am concerned about the Omicron variant and in terms of the high volume that may emerge here post Christmas or you know, maybe in the next couple of weeks.
“Its doubling time seems to be shorter and certainly it seems to have an advantage over Delta.
“I’m concerned but I’m also hopeful because as I said 12 months on, I’m just after getting a booster vaccine that illustrates the capacity of science and our system to respond to the threats of this pandemic.
“I think 2022 gives us hope as well but in the interim, we have a very serious variant and I’m reading what’s happening in Scotland and the UK, they’re estimating that it will take over Delta and that it is more infectious than the Delta variant.
“That is something we have to be worried about.”
Mr Martin said “the big issue” around Omicron is that early evidence suggests vaccines will protect against severe illness but he said more data was needed.
He said he believes the cancellation of several entertainment events will give the health service some “head room” to cope with demand on services.
When asked about further restrictions given his comments that the Omicron variant is likely more transmissible than the Delta variant, he said: “Look we have a series of restrictions in place now to the ninth of January, that was agreed by Government following advice from NPHET.
“One can never rule out anything, the honest answer is one can never rule out anything in relation to Covid-19 because there are many twists and turns.
“But what I think is important is that we adhere to the guidelines that are in place and the restrictions that have been brought into play and that in our own personal and collective behaviour we take care, that is key.
“To be fair to people, the last number of weeks, they have taken the message, they have taken the advice on board.
“There has been a significant reduction in many events, cancellation of events and people have adapted and that actually has had a good result in terms of stabilising the numbers in hospital and in intensive care which will give the health service very significant head room now over the coming weeks.”
Mr Martin also paid tribute to the HSE despite people having been turned away for booster jabs as the system could not cope with demand as people queued for hours for their third jab.
He said the HSE and the Government is “doing everything we possibly can” to ramp up the booster campaign.
He said he hopes one and a half million people will have a booster before Christmas.
He added: “I think the Irish people have shown considerable resilience and adaptability.
“We’ve a new threat now in the form of a new variant just as we overcame Alpha, Delta, we can overcome this wave as well but we have to behave sensibly, assess it as we get more information and deal with it.
“It is a huge challenge to people.
“It has for many of our children in particular, it is not a normal kind of thing we have to do.
“They are not any normal Government envisage doing but that is the nature of a one in 100 year event.”